The Mohawk: Keepers of the Eastern Door of Great Turtle Island - interview
This is John Robles, I’m speaking with Kahentinetha Horn she is Mohawk Indian Elder and a member of the Bear Clan. She is also the owner and publisher of the Mohawk News web-resource.
(Kahentinetha Horn, Bear Clan, Mohawk Nation, Kahnawake community on Great Turtle Island.)
Robles: Hello Kahentinetha! How are you this evening?
Kahentinetha: (Speaks Mohawk: "it is nice to speak with you. we have much to tell you about what we are doing on great turtle island. our great law of peace is the path to peace based on our understanding of the great natural power kasatstensera kowa sa oiera)
Robles: Can you translate that now for us?
Kahentinetha: Those are my greetings in Mohawk. And I introduced which is the Great Turtle Island, which is what we call North America; we never call it that, we call it “Great Turtle Island.”
People who live on Great Turtle Island are the (Speaks Mohawk) which means “the True Natural People of Great Turtle Island.”
And we follow: we have a developed constitution called <Speaks Mohawk> which means the “Great Path”. And the Great Path is the great path to peace. Our philosophy is based on our understanding and our awareness of the natural world. That’s a little bit about us.
Robles: Okay. As all North American Indians, the basis of beliefs are: respect for nature and the Great Spirit. Can you tell us a little bit in particular about the Mohawk Nation and what you are doing to promote the issues that are important to the indigenous peoples?
Kahentinetha: The Mohawk, also known as (Kanien'gehaga), are the “Keepers of the Eastern Door of Great Turtle Island.” So, we are in the east and we were placed there by our (Speaks Mohawk) that’s the Great Natural Power. That’s where we were placed. And we were to watch for people who would be coming from the east. And so, that’s why we are called the Keepers of the Eastern Door.
We traversed throughout the eastern part of Great Turtle Island right from the north all the way down to the south. We traveled and we met all the other indigenous peoples, and we got to know each other. And we formed friendships and alliances that last to this day. There were hundreds and hundreds of indigenous nations.
The Mohawk had the responsibility to maintain the peace. We always feel that we have to do that because the Great Law which is our philosophy (Speaks Mohawk) we were the first ones to take it, to accept it. And because we were the first ones to do that, we have always been responsible for maintaining it and to maintain the peace which is what the Great Law is all about.
The Great Law of Peace is to bring peace not just to the Great Turtle Island but throughout the world. That’s why that law was given to our people. The Mohawk have this very… you know. We feel it! Right inside ourselves.
We are the eagle that sits on top of the Tree of Peace and we look out to see any danger that is coming towards us. And we give a warning, a loud scream to the people. That’s how the Mohawk Nation News came into existence.
I was raised as … I only spoke Mohawk until I was about 10 years old.
Kahentinetha: Then, I had to learn to speak English. So, then, in 1990 we were defending the land. The women are what we call the “Title Holders of the Land” because we are tired to the land and we are the creators, and we hold the land for the future generations that are not here yet.
The women are the ones that have the children, that bear the children and the men have the duty of protecting the women and the children along with all their other duties. They imitate the responsibilities of the Sun; to provide heat, provide warmth, provide protection, help provide food and to teach the children, all these things to be our diplomats, our teachers, to travel and meet other native people.
The women: our responsibilities come from whatever the Earth does, which is to create the children, to help create the food, to feed the children, to raise them, to help them to become advocates of the Great Law of Peace. There is a male and female balance, not male or patriarchal or matriarchal, there is a balance between the male and the female.
Robles: In most tribes the women chose the leaders because they knew the character of the children. Is that also true with the Mohawks?
Kahentinetha: Yes. Well the people because each one of us has a “Fire,” we have the individual fire of ourselves which is what inside of us; it is our intuition, our minds, our energy, that’s called the “Fire of Life.” And we have the “Fire of the Family” which is people close to us, then the extended family and then the community, then the clan and then that extends into the nation, and that extends to the confederacy that we formed.
So, all these relationships are connected, all circular and in the very center is myself, for example. I’m in the center, all of these other circles around me, these are all my connections. So, my responsibility is immediately to my own children.
When a clan selects somebody to become a leader, or to represent us or to be a spokesman…we don’t have leaders, there is no such thing as a leader because we are equal, we are all equal and we all have a voice. So, what happens is that both the men and the women “the People” have a Fire, the women’s Fire and the men’s Fire, and the men and the women have a combined Fire, we come together and we will make a selection of somebody to speak for us, we don’t call them leaders, we call them spokespeople.
And so the spokesperson represents us for the day only, just for that day. And the women will tell the chiefs and they will say: “This is the person we’ve selected and that is the person that will speak for us for the day.” So, that’s very different from the kind of situation that you people have, you now. (laughs)
Robles: Sure! As I understand Western democracies were based on Indian law and Indian relationships between nations and tribes, and clans. In Europe they had monarchies, there was no such concept as democracy.
Kahentinetha: No, they didn’t. And they still don’t understand true democracy.
You were listening to an interview with Kahentinetha Horn – she is a member of the Mohawk Nation, the Bear Clan, and the owner and publisher of